Art world holding its breath ahead of one of the biggest art auctions in history
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The art world is holding its breath this week in anticipation of one of the biggest art auctions in history. The June 23rd auction, set for Christie's London, boasts a total of 63 lots estimated at a staggering £231 million ($342 million). On June 22, Sotheby’s will hold a nearly as impressive auction of its own in the British capital, offering 51 lots estimated to fetch £148 million ($219 million). Exceptional works by Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Manet, Klimt, Giacometti and Van Gogh decorate the sales’ catalogues.
The greatest market excitement is building over Christie’s auction of Picasso’s Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto (1903), and Claude Monet’s 1906 Nymphéas, both estimated at £30 million to £40 million. Sotheby’s will offer an Edouard Manet Self-Portrait with a Palette for £20 million to £30 million (follow our live coverage of the auctions on twitter).
Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto hails from the Blue Period, debatably the paramount period in Picasso’s career. While aptly exemplifying Picasso’s unique talent, the piece also provides an intimate glimpse into the artist’s personal life, depicting his close friend de Soto. Picasso and de Soto met in 1899 and were soon inseparable companions.
Angel was a fellow artist, but he tended to party more than paint, and tales of the two’s antics throughout Barcelona are illustrated in several of Picasso’s works. In this portrait, Picasso renders Angel enjoying a pipe and glass of absinthe, as the strong swirls of blue oil paint add a contemplative psychological aspect. The proceeds of the sale will benefit the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, which acquired the work in 1995 for $29.2 million.
Sales this year have enjoyed a great deal of success and recognition given their sharp contrast to the state of the 2008 market amidst the global financial meltdown. Only half-way through 2010, the difference is manifest and growing, and auction houses have already achieved an impressive list of hammer prices and record-breakers. Just last week a Modigliani bust sold at Christie’s Paris for nearly 10 times its high estimate at $52.6 million, a new record for an auction in France and a record for the artist.
Perhaps the most-telling sign of the market's recovery is the double conquer of first place in the record books this year, achieved initially in February at Sotheby’s by Giacometti’s L’homme qui marche I fetching $104.3 million in London; and subsequently seized at Christie’s in May by Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bustwhich sold for $106.5 million in New York. The next big question is if the throne will be usurped for a third time this year on Wednesday, again by Picasso with his de Soto portrait. As Chairman of the Phillips de Pury & Company auction house, Simon de Pury recently remarked in an exclusive interview with MutualArt.com, “I think it’s a fabulous work, and anything is possible. We’ll see what happens!”
Speaking with MutualArt.com, Giovanna Bertazzoni, head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie's London, refrained from commenting on the prospects of a new world record, saying only that “we know that the pre-sale value of the auction is the highest for a sale in London, so that is our aim." According to Bertazzoni, “The most magical aspect of any auction is that it is often difficult to predict what will happen - it depends on who is bidding at the time, and how far they are willing to go to acquire a work of art... The auction presents opportunities for collectors - and it is opportunities that can often lead to surprises. For example, if a collector wished to acquire an important Blue Period Picasso, or a full-length female portrait by Gustav Klimt, this auction is a very rare opportunity indeed.”
Monet’s 1906 Nymphéas belongs to Monet’s historic Paris exhibition of the water-lily series in 1909, which bestowed the painter with international acclaim. The series literally sprouted from Monet’s own backyard; in 1890, after achieving profitable success, the artist bought his residence in Giverny and began redesigning the gardens.
His newly created lily pond consistently occupied his palette, and he self-admittedly became obsessed with the representations. His strive for perfection of the light and water-reflections drove him to destroy several “unsatisfactory” attempts; nonetheless, the water-lilies’ debut reached exceptional fame and has since been universally acknowledged as a clear indicator of Monet's aptitude.
At Christie’s, Picasso and Monet aren’t the only ones on collector’s radars. The house is also strengthened by Klimt’s Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III), estimated to fetch between £14 million and £18 million, and Van Gogh’s Parc de l'hôpital Saint-Paul estimated for £8 million to £12 million. With the benefit of another Picasso piece Le baiser, estimated to raise £8-12 million, Christie’s may show London the largest auction ever.
Manet’s Self-Portrait with a Palette (watch video about lot) returns to Sotheby’s floor for the third time, debuting originally in 1958 as the first lot in the Goldschmidt sale which at that time achieved the highest total ever for a fine art sale. In its second run in 1997 as part of the Loeb collection, the piece achieved $18.7 million. This rare commodity is one of only two Manet self-portraits that exist.
Apart from Manet, Sotheby’s should have no trouble captivating the audience’s attention by unveiling high-end pieces that have never before appeared at auction: A 1905 painting by French artist André Derain, estimated between £9–14 million, Arbres à Collioure is part of a significant group of paintings uncovered in 1979 in a Paris bank vault; Matisse’s Odalisques jouant aux dames is estimated at £10-15 million; as well as Picasso’s Buste de Matado vying for a £5-7 million hammer price.
According to Bertazzoni, “The fact that [the Christie's sale] is the most valuable auction to be held in London reflects the confidence of vendors who are happy to consign great works of art to Christie's,” adding that “the most notable effect of the financial troubles of Autumn 2008 was a reduction in supply as consigners chose not to consign works for auction."
Written by Joanna Bledsoe and MutualArt.com staff.
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